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Understanding Anxiety Disorders, Part 2

Anxiety disorders come in many varieties. Descriptions of some of the most common disorders follow:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder: GAD is characterized by persistent anxiety unrelated to a specific event. People suffering from GAD cannot help worrying about anything and everything, even in calm situations. They have difficulty relaxing, falling asleep, or concentrating, and tend to be impatient and irritable. Physical symptoms accompanying GAD include sweating; an upset stomach; diarrhea; frequent urination; cold, clammy hands; a lump in the throat; a dry mouth; shortness of breath; headaches; and dizziness. Managing the normal demands of a job, relationships, and everyday life can become more and more difficult for people with this disorder. GAD appears in four percent of the general population.

Case Study: Amy, age 38, is a worrier. She is restless, irritable and has difficulty concentrating. She worries that she worries so much and isn’t always sure what it is that she is worried about. She can’t let her husband or children leave the house without making them call her regularly to reassure her that they are okay. Her husband is growing weary of her fretting. Her children can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Their impatience with her only makes her worry more. Amy has generalized anxiety disorder.

Panic Disorder: Panic attacks are just that—sudden, inexplicable waves of panic that seem to come out of the blue. The body responds with the “fight-or-flight” response, anticipating clear and immediate danger. Often, these attacks subside as mysteriously as they occur. A person who has experienced one or more panic attacks often develops a fear of having one again. Some professionals call this a “fear of fear.” The individual may even try to stay away from anything that reminds him or her of the last attack to avoid having another one. People can have panic attacks with or without agoraphobia (see “Phobias” below).

These attacks include symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, feelings of choking or smothering, nausea, dizziness, sweating, and trembling. An afflicted person might also be overwhelmed by a fear of dying, going crazy, or losing control.

Case Study: Annie is a 20-year-old student at a local community college. On several occasions recently, she has experienced sudden, absolute panic. During these episodes, her heart pounds; she trembles; her mouth gets dry and it feels as if the walls are caving in. The feelings only last a few minutes but, when they occur, the only thing that seems to relieve her fear is walking around her apartment and reminding herself that she is in control. She won’t ride in cars any more unless she is driving so she is sure that she can stop if necessary. She will only go to class if she can find an aisle seat in the back row so that she can leave quietly should she have another attack. She avoids any situation in which she might feel out of control or embarrassed by her own terror. Annie is suffering from panic attacks.

Understanding Anxiety Disorders, Part 2

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). Understanding Anxiety Disorders, Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.